Gear reviews and "guitar player interviews". The Guitar Zombie is the fastest spreading blog about guitars, amps, effects and other stuff.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bill Kelliher Mastodon, "The Tone Chaser" (Interview )

One of the most interesting progmetal bands of today is Mastodon. The band played a few days ago here in Stockholm and I had the opportunity to see them. Mastodon is one of my favourite bands when it comes to guitar players in the metal genre. Complicated and beautifully created riffs all the way and the four band members are as tight as you hear them play on the albums. 

Bill Kelliher is, in my opinion, the best rhythm guitar player i the business and he is also a very talented soloist. I was asked to meet Bill for an interview just before soundcheck and I didn't hesitate long. Bill is known to be very particular about his tone, a tone chaser, and I asked him how it all started.

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When did you become a "tone chaser"?
A good question actually, and I can't speak för everyone, but, what ever you do in life you always try to do it the best you possibly can. I have always been interested in recording and when I hear a guitar player on a record that sounds awesome I instantly want to catch that tone or sound. Thats where my addiction with starts actually, to find that tone that cuts through and sound fucking awesome.

Which guitar player was the first one to catch your interest?
It all started with Eddie Van Halens tone, and he is still to this day a tremendous guitar player. A clear tone with not to much distortion. Its funny because when you start playing you always try to collect as much distortion boxes as possible, and thats not what this thing is about at all.

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What amps did you start out with?
I started out with Peavey Butcher and the VTM60 from the 80s, amazing amps. It was basically like a JCM800 but way cheaper. I also had a Chandler Tube Driver, the big yellow thing, for just a tiny extra overdrive. The thing is that after 20 years i the business I saw one of these VTMs on craigslist and bought one just out of curiosity to hear how it sounds today as myself and technology has developed. I was surprised that it still sound amazing... It struck me that I´ve had my tone since beginning and still chase for better all the time and I actually returned to the same spot.

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But you are a Marshall guy?
Yeah, I have used Marshalls for a long time since then and they have always sounded good for me. But when I heard Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains and his awesome tone a while ago I was stunned.

What was it about his tone?
You know I was on the backside of the stage every evening and could hear his guitar from that isocab and it was so clear,  you could hear every single beautiful note he played, and that guy is a great guitar player. I asked him "what the hell are you playing through?" Whatever it is I got to have it. He said he had a Friedman "Marsha", a Marshall clone basically, and an isolation box with Celestion Creambacks. He said that he had an head one I could borrow on the tour.

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So that was it?
Yeah. His guitar tech had a couple of guitar pickups called Motorcity Pickups that Cantrell use and he installed it in my guitar and I got his tone, or at least his sound. A couple of years later I bought a Friedman Head which I now use on tour back in America, they are way to heavy to move over to Europe.

What is the best thing with this Friedman head of yours?
I have two, one of modified Jerry Cantrell signature and one HBE. The thing is that you don't need that much distortion, once again, cause it blurs up stuff between the notes to much. I use to roll back the gain and turn up the mids, but I´m still out on the hunt and I have millions of distortion pedals but at the same time I like less of everything. I like it the best when the guitar goes right in to the amp. Once you start adding chains of this and that and wireless and stuff and you suddenly get confused and loose the things you´re actually chasing. I want it to cut through and define my playing the way I want it to.

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On the European leg of the tour you use Marshall heads?
Yeah, JCM800 2203, one reissue and one original from like 2003 or something. Great amps too, and if something breaks a use a Blackstar for backup.

You have Creambacks in your isocab?
Yeah but I´m not the guy who can easily explain how stuff sounds, I just now when it sound great,  but they´re awesome. They are like Vintage 30´s which I have in my stage cabs but a bit more aggressive maybe.

When I was growing up I always had 20 watt speakers to use less distortion on the amp and distortion pedals and let the speakers do the job but the seems to have shorter life as I run them pretty hard. But then i found the Celestion 65 watt Creambacks that sounds great, somewhat in between 75 and 20 and when I cracked it up it sounded so good.

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You have a signature Gibson Les Paul...
Yes, Gibson Les Paul "Halcyon" with my own designed pickups made by Lace called "Dissonant Aggressor". A beautiful guitar with Mahogany body, gold and black burst, mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard. On this tour I also have a 82 Les Paul Custom wine red and a white 1977 Les Paul Custom.

What about effects then?
I have moved on from the effect pedal stuff now and I use Fractal AxeFX II and a MFC 101 instead. I still use normal amps you know so I´m just half way in to the modern era. I´m not using the amp modelling thing yet.

How does your guitar tech  handle your "changing all the time" regarding your tone chasing?
Yeah ha ha he´s a bit frustrated sometimes but I am actually my own tech. He knows how to set things up but I want the last hand on everything to be satisfied. I use this Fractal thing for some stuff, and he doesn't have a clue about that sort of stuff. But its ok, cause I know how it sounds when it sounds good, you know what I mean... He basically keeps the guitars i tune and stuff. I want to problem shoot things myself and I am really anal about it, you would hate work for me...

I don't know about that.... 
Ha ha well I´m a nice guy but I now my stuff you know and I know exactly how I want it.

Looking forward to the show and to hear you play...
Your welcome

Thanks for letting me talk to you...
Thank you, it was fun talking about "tone chase"...

Tomorrow I will publish the Bill Kelliher Rig Rundown.... 12 minuets of pure nerd activity....

Stay Zombied.....

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